In this anthology of essays drawn from previously published—but  relatively inaccessible to the non-specialist reader—Sandra Schneiders addresses the most critical problem of the Christian believer: how to imagine Jesus as personally alive and present to us.  All essays are based on the Fourth Gospel, a distinctive text that must be examined in its own context, its own internal structure and theological purpose. In six chapters she discusses—in detail—the meaning of “body” in the context of Christian belief in the Resurrection, and how understanding this meaning  affects both faith and hope. Focusing particularly in one chapter on the experiences of Mary Magdalene and Thomas, Schneiders examines the purpose of the two memorable incidents of “touching” in the Johannine text. Disciples must give up their preoccupation with the historical-physical so that they can be open to faith in the ecclesial-bodily presence of Jesus. Central to the examination of the Resurrection in John’s Gospel, therefore, is the understanding of the “bodiliness” of the Risen Jesus.

Western readers need to be reminded that “body” is interpreted differently in pre-modern and Semitic languages. In John “body” is the person, the whole self (living or dead). It does not mean “flesh” as in contemporary western terminology. “Resurrection” in John’s Gospel is the return of Jesus to his followers. It is not the same as “Glorification” which refers to the return of Jesus to his Father. This kind of  examination of John’s vocabulary is essential to interpreting John’s text, and Schneiders provides a clear entrée into John’s vocabulary, illuminating its distinctive theology.

Especially significant is the author’s analysis of the Temple motif—the bodily Jesus as the “New Temple” and the task of the new corporate Body, the Church, to “take away the sin (sins) of the world.” The author’s focus on the role of the Holy Spirit in the overcoming of sin and the subsequent role of the disciples in the work of reconciliation clarifies John’s distinctive theology.

Included in the final essay is an analysis of the work of Rene Girard on scapegoating and violence, and how Girard’s theory affects our understanding of the Crucifixion and death of Jesus. What does it mean to speak (in  John’s description) of Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”? In the final essay Schneiders—in agreement with the Girardian interpretation of sacrifice—corrects the dangerous misinterpretation of the Crucifixion as something required by God. He was the innocent victim of human violence—unique because he did not remain in the grip of death. “Jesus was not sacrificed by or to God, nor did he will his own death.”

Readers who follow the author’s arguments closely in these carefully reasoned essays will gain a deeper understanding of the distinctive theology of the Fourth Gospel and appreciate more fully the profundity of a text that is too often blurred by  casual assimilation into the storyline of the other Gospels. In this context see especially the author’s reading—in the final chapter of the book of John 20:23—a probing interpretation which may surprise you. Sandra Schneiders offers for the careful reader such close analyses of John’s Gospel that one can never see (or hear) the text again without recalling its theological brilliance submerged in language that is deceptively simple. This not a book for the casual reader. Don’t take it to the beach.